2008 Washington Deer Forecast

2008 Washington Deer Forecast

Before you burn through a tank of gas, check out this unit-by-unit survey of the upcoming deer season.

Once again, it's time to gather up all your maps and notes from last year's hunt and sit down with your hunting partner to plan this year's outing.

Hunter Stan Weeks took this fine buck in a 2007 high-country hunt.
Photo by Jason Sutcliffe.

Anyone who tried to cross the Cascades last winter has a clear understanding of the accumulation of snow at higher elevations. But the district biologists who reported to Scott McCorquodale, statewide deer and elk specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the deer herds are generally faring well.

In most winter forage areas, the snow fell a few inches at a time and then melted off, allowing the deer access to feed before the next snow.

However, loss of habitat and widespread use of herbicides as a forest management practice are long-term concerns.

Last season's harvest was within a few percentage points of the 10-year average. The management objectives remain at a post-hunt buck-to-doe ratio of 15-to-100, with higher ratios in some limited-entry game management units.

The mule deer harvest numbers are down a bit, most likely due to the infestation of lice that caused hair-loss syndrome in the Region 3 herds.


Wildfires are always a threat to man, beast and the environment. Often, they ultimately work out to help deer by reducing the canopy and allowing sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, but sometimes the effects of wildfires are damaging and long-reaching.

The jury is still out on the long-term results of the Blue Mountain and Hanford Reach fires of the past few years.

Hunters should always exercise care with campfires and make sure fires are dead out before breaking camp. For hunters who smoke in camp, field-stripping and properly disposing of every cigarette or cigar butt is an absolute necessity.

You can check current statewide wildfire conditions at the state Web site, www.dnr.wa.gov/RecreationEduction/Pages/Home.aspx.


Blacktail numbers are up a bit. Overall, whitetails now make up almost 40 percent of the total harvest.

Modern-firearms hunters tagged a deer roughly 24 percent of the time. Muzzleloaders did slightly better, and archers did the best of all.

The following region-by-region breakdown -- based on interviews with WDFW game biologists, hunters, outfitters and the 2007 Deer Status and Trend Report -- will get into the nitty-gritty details to help you in planning your hunt.

REGION 6, Olympic Peninsula
South Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula counties make up this region, where deer hunting takes a back seat to steelheading as a favorite outdoor pursuit. The current game management plan is materially unchanged from past years. Any antlered deer may be taken in any GMU except 636, 654 and 681, which have a 2-point-or-better antler minimum.

Hunter success again fell a bit in 2006 from the high of 2004. But it still came in at 19 percent in the general deer season. The harvest rate decline actually demonstrates the quirks of statistics: More animals were taken during the last reporting season -- but there were simply more hunters working the region.

Hunters enjoyed special-permit seasons in the Satsop (GMU 651), Capitol Peak (GMU 663), Skookumchuck (GMU 667) and Wynoochee (GMU 648). These areas provide a high-quality, late-season hunt. Permit holders reported success rates exceeding 60 percent. This November, special-permit season allows hunters to work through the rut, which typically means a higher percentage of trophy-sized animals being taken.

For stay-at-home Westside hunters, this would be a good option.

For big numbers, Skookumchuck, Satsop and Mashel put the most deer on the table, year in and year out. Two areas that don't produce big numbers, but offer the region's best overall success rates, are Kitsap (GMU 633) and Copalis (GMU 642).

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Long Island (GMU 699). The few hunters who worked that area came back empty-handed.

REGION 5, Lower Columbia
Headquartered in Vancouver, Region 5 ranges along the Columbia River east through Klickitat County and north to Lewis County. In 2006, overall hunter success dropped to 16 percent, which was lower than the region's 10-year average.

Even though more hunters opted for Region 5, total harvest numbers were the second-lowest since 1997.

As in years past, success rates varied between the higher elevation GMUs and the lowland areas, with the lower elevation hunters recording more kills. The Cascade Mountain GMUs -- 513, 516, 558, 560, 572, and 574 -- have shown a long-term downward trend in population, associated with a loss of forage base.

Much of the land in those units is federally owned and was clear-cut in the 1980s. The new growth has not been actively thinned, so the forage base is reduced.

Past road-building activities have depressed deer populations as have domestic livestock grazing policies, which have established a pecking order in food consumption.

Cattle eat the available grass, forcing the elk to eat the browse plants favored by the deer. The deer then suffer from lack of food.

Grayback (GMU 388) and East Klickitat (GMU 382) continue to be managed as mule deer units, which require legal bucks to sport three points or more. Although the deer population is down from historical highs, those two units should produce more than 800 animals, due to the longer modern firearms season.

With two exceptions, the rest of the GMUs are managed under the "any buck" strategy: Any buck with visible antlers is a legal buck.

In West Klickitat (GMU 578) and Wind River (GMU 574), bucks must have two or more points to be legal. Even with this more restrictive regulation, these units will produce more than 400 animals.

Of all the Region 5 units, Battleground (GMU 564), Stormking (GMU 510) and Mossyrock (GMU 505) had the best percentage success.

Lewis River reported the lowest success rate, most likely due to encroaching human development in that area.

REGION 4, Northwest
This region features deer populations from backyard flower gardens to rural orchards, lowland hill country and high alpine meadows.

Region 4 begins in King County, runs north to British Columbia and sprawls west to the San Juans and Whidbey Island and east to the crest of the Cascade Range.

Development has covered much of the area in asphalt and buildings. But deer still find a way to co-exist with humans, and hunters still find a way to fill their tags.

As a whole, Region 4 has the second-highest success rate in the state.

Islands (GMU 410) continues to lead the way with a 40 percent success rate for modern-firearms hunters. Hunter success in this unit indicates a healthy, sustaining deer population.

But the area has almost no public land. Conservative hunting strategies -- like special permits, archery, muzzleloaders and shotguns -- are widely favored in this area due to its high human population and limited public access. The 2008 harvest should exceed 450 animals, most of which will be bucks.

For a completely different hunting experience, try Diablo (GMU 426), which starts at the Canadian border, then runs south and east to the Cascade crest. Interestingly, hunter success increases the farther south from the Canadian border you go. Deer move south to avoid the dramatically cold air that spills down the Fraser River valley.

This unit's geography makes it a physically demanding hunt for mule deer or mulie-blacktail hybrids in spectacular scenery. Bowhunters do quite well in this rugged terrain.

Local hunters' success rates in the Stillaguamish (GMU 448) have been rising, most likely due to better local knowledge of public access.

For Snoqualmie (GMU 460), the outlook is mixed. This unit continues to experience urban development. But at the outer edges, the land is subject to logging that may increase the forage base. The number of animals harvested has shown a slight increase over the last few years. Expect this year's to be around 135 animals.

Issaquah (GMU 454) has liberal seasons to minimize the deer damage complaints and road-kills resulting from increased development.

REGION 3, Mid-Columbia
Region 3, the flip side of Region 4, begins at the Cascade crest, flows downslope to the Columbia River, then turns south. This region encompasses a wide variety of habitat including alpine forests, rain-shadow shrub lands and arid sagebrush desert where the availability of perennial water may dictate herd populations.

Most of the harvest is mule deer or hybrids managed as mule deer. A few whitetails are taken in eastern units.

Region 3 is tough to characterize on a broad basis. Except for 31 and 34, most population management units are suffering declining deer populations caused by the triple whammy of drought, winter conditions and the louse Bovicola tibialis, which first hit in 2004 and spread rapidly through several areas.

In 2007, the now greatly depleted herds showed fewer signs of hair loss. That might signal that the infestation has run its course. Keep your fingers crossed, but it will take some time for the herds to recover. Meanwhile, the harvest is restricted to bucks showing three or more points.

Ringold (GMU 379) and Kahlotus (GMU 381) were both formerly known as Esquatzel. These two units -- the Region 3 bright spots -- offer several different seasons including both early and late archery seasons and early and late muzzleloader seasons. They also support several special permits each year, including some late-season permits, which presents the opportunity for taking some trophy animals.

Recent harvest data reflect a high proportion of older bucks bearing five or more points. Special permit hunters tagged an animal roughly 56 percent of the time.

Wildfires in 2005 and '07 on the Hanford Reach National Monument burned some important forage areas, but conditions had not been severe.

WDFW surveys indicate that this deer population is highly mobile, with substantial numbers of animals migrating into these units in fall and winter.

East Klickitat (GMU 382) is Region 3's other bright spot, with roughly 30 percent of hunters tagging a deer. Expect 450 or more animals to be harvested in 2008.

The harvest numbers on Bethel (GMU 360). Bumping (GMU 356) and Rimrock (GMU 364) are simply dismal, reflective of the deer population's depleted by the Bovicola louse and hair-loss syndrome.

REGION 2, Northeast
This is mule deer country, but more whitetails are infiltrating into its eastern fringes, especially in the Okanogan District. Region 2 provides quality hunting for the Chelan and Douglas deer herds, with many units reporting hunter-success ratios above 20 percent.

Rates top out with Clark (GMU 244) and Ritzville (GMU 284) at 28 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

Hunters took more than 4,000 animals last season.

Bruce Wick, of Icicle Outfitters & Guides, said that the 2008 season is going to be similar to last year's because the 2007-08 winter was "pretty normal."

He favors the Clark Unit and Swakane Unit (GMU 250) for his clients because of the Chelan herd's well-deserved reputation for producing large numbers of mature bucks. Wick says that hunters in the woods in mid- to late November have the best opportunity of scoring a trophy.

Region 2 offers numerous hunting options. In early September, there's a desert archery hunt. Later, there is the high-country buck hunts in the Glacier Peak and Alpine Lakes wilderness areas. In December, hunters have the late archery season.

Okanogan East (GMU 204) records the largest number of deer, but also attracts the largest number of hunters.

Beezley (GMU 272) recorded more than 300 animals killed in 2008. The buck population appears to be increasing.

REGION 1, East

gion 1 covers the 10 easternmost counties in Washington State and produces whitetail and mule deer consistently for hunters. The most recent harvest reports demonstrate that 47 percent of all deer taken in the general season came from Region 1.

From the large Sherman Unit, which extends north from the Colville Indian Reservation to Canada, down to the sliver-sized Grande Ronde Unit in the south, this region' habitat and forage support multitudes of deer.

Within Region 1, of course, not all GMUs are equal.

Mount Spokane (GMU 124) continues to be "the whitetail factory," said McCorquodale, the state's deer and elk specialist. It accounted for 8 percent of the entire statewide general harvest, and had an outstanding hunter-success ratio that exceeded 32 percent. Add in the adjoining 49 Degrees North (GMU 117) and Huckleberry (GMU 121), and hunters killed more than 6,500 animals.

It's too early to declare a trend, but 49 Degrees North showed the largest increase in hunter activity and total harvest -- with a slightly reduced hunter-success ratio over the previous figures.

Huckleberry saw more hunters bringing home the same number of deer. Its success rate has been steady, at 30 percent.

Just a bit farther north is Douglas, GMU 108, which reported the second-highest hunter success ratio in the region. It also had substantially less hunting pressure than the "factory" units closer to Spokane.

Guide Dale Denney, of Bear Paw Outfitters, hunts all the 101 through 124 GMUs, but mostly on private property through arrangements with landowners.

Denney said that in 2007, he had an excellent hunt with 100 percent of his guided hunters getting shots. Only one or two of his many hunters didn't tag a deer.

Not only do GMUs 101 through 124 produce a lot of deer, they have also produced big bucks. The 2007 WDFW Deer Status and Trend Report reflects an gradual increase in the percentage of 5-points-or-more whitetail bucks coming through their field check stations.

When it comes to finding deer, Denney said that most are in "the agricultural areas and valleys, but the biggest bucks are in the heaviest cover in the mountains."

That makes sense: The big bucks got that way by using all cover.

In addition to the units already mentioned, he likes Aladdin (GMU 111), which has some of the best bucks, and the tough-to-hunt mountain areas of Sherman (GMU 101) -- which, Denney said, has a good percentage of mature bucks.

On the southeast edge of Region 1 down by Asotin, lies the Couse Unit (Unit 181), which in 2007 has yet again put up the best hunter-success ratio. This is rough-and-tumble mule deer country, filled with jumbled lava flows of the Columbia River Basalt Group and deeply cleft valleys. It doesn't get much pressure because hunting is easier elsewhere.

If you don't mind putting forth some physical effort and want a good chance at a mature mule deer buck, try here or in the adjacent Grande Ronde Unit.

The Blue Mountains have had their share of wildfires in recent years. McCorquodale said that last year's fire didn't burn super-hot, so it might turn out OK from a forage standpoint.

The state is also planning to replant those areas that were hardest hit.

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